On Friday, September 2nd, President Obama announced that he would abandon a proposed rule by the Environmental Protection Agency to alter the standards on ground-level ozone. The new draft of the Ozone National Air Quality Standards would have set ground-level ozone standards from 75 parts per billion to 60 to 70 parts per billion. The current standard of 75 parts per billion was established in 2008 by former president George Bush.
Ozone, a gas composed of three oxygen atoms is found in the stratosphere and the troposphere and depending on its location can be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’. ‘Good’ ozone, found in the stratosphere, protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays. At the trophosphere, ground-level ozone is caused by a chemical reaction between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight and can cause a whole host of health problems ranging from minor chest pains, coughing, throat irritation to more serious issues like bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Environmentally, ground-level ozone can have many harmful effects including “reduced agricultural crop and commercial forest yields, reduced growth and survivability of tree seedlings, and increased susceptibility to diseases, pests and other stresses such as harsh weather.” Under the Clean Air Act, the presidential administration must review air pollution regulations every five years and set standards based on scientific research to protect public health. The standards set in 2008 by the Bush administration were more stringent that the previous levels of 1997 but not up o the recommendations at the time. The standards are up again for review in 2013.
With his approval rating at 40%, President Obama has shown a pronounced shift in policy emphasis towards the faltering economy. The president rejected the new standard, electing to focus on the struggling economy rather than a key environmental issue, claiming that “the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.” Many counties in the United States that would not meet the new standards would be forced to undergo costly restructuring estimating with enforcement of the new rule potentially costing between $19 and $90 billion. However, EPA figures placed the amount of money saved from pollution based health costs at $100 billion dollars in addition to the prevention of some 12,000 premature deaths.
The decision has trigger an outpouring of disappointment and anger. Some organizations such as the American Lung Association plan to challenge the decision in court with the ALA president, Charles D. Connor chastising of the administration, “Its final decision not to enact a more protective ozone health standard is jeopardizing the health of millions of Americans, which is inexcusable.”
Also to be seen is what effect this will have on President Obama’s reelection chances as this decision potentially upsets his environmental base.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/marcn/2174935053/sizes/m/in/photostream/